Explaining the Sequester


So, who’s worried about the sequester?
Basically everyone. Republicans hate it because it’s going to cut $42.7 billion from the military’s budget. Democrats hate it because it will shave money from the budgets of programs like Head Start and the National Institute of Health, put government employees out of work, cut unemployment benefits for the nation’s poor, and take an ax to all kinds of federal infrastructure and research projects. (The New York Times has a roundup of the various ways agencies are preparing themselves for sudden financial doom.) And everyone is worried that cutting $85 billion from the federal budget this year will hurt the national economy — by most estimates, the sequester would reduce GDP by around a half-percent this year and cause a significant spike in the unemployment rate.

Kevin Roose has a “Moron’s Guide to the Sequester” in the Daily Intelligencer today, which is fun (and it has to be fun because like the discussion about the fiscal cliff, a lot of people get bored out of their minds before getting into the meat of things). Here are other takes on explaining the sequester:

• Gawker’s comic book explanation using Kate Upton and Ryan Gosling
• Heidi Moore’s essential guide to the spending cuts over at The Guardian
Mother Jones’s explanation on 12 ways the sequester will screw over the poor

Photo: humbertomoreno

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19 Comments / Post A Comment

emilies (#956)

As a person with a flight booked for March 1st, all I need to know is: should I be panicking?

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@emilies I travel to the US frequently and I’m worried. Sounds like 1 hour border waits are going to turn into 5 hour border waits if this goes through, and then security in US airports will be a gong show.

Guess who’s going to be spending less of his time and money in America if that happens!

WaityKatie (#1,696)

Also, I know nobody cares about federal employees because we spend all of our time alternately sleeping at our desks and drinking the blood of innocents, but the sequester means that most of us are going to lose up to 20 percent or more of our pay through the rest of the year, either through a one day per week furlough or a solid month furlough. Most agencies’ budgets are primarily made up of employee salaries, and have already been cut to the bone (at my agency all travel has already been curtailed, overtime (for the few who get it) has been cancelled, and hiring has been severely restricted, despite the need. This has been in effect for the past 3 years, so the only thing left to cut for the sequester is employees.

Since, you know, we also consume goods and services, much like actual humans, that’s going to be a pretty big hit to the economy. I was planning to take a vacation, buy clothes, and pay off debt this year, but I won’t be doing any of that if I’m furloughed. I won’t be eating at restaurants, buying theater/movie/concert tickets, or paying for cable either. Multiply that times hundreds of thousands of people.

@WaityKatie Yeah one thing people seem to forget is the rather simple relationship between GDP and government spending. The GDP formula is as follows:

GDP = Consumption + Investment + (Government Spending – Taxes) + (Exports – Imports)

If you cut government spending and everything else stays the same, GDP will go down. It’s not rocket science…

@stuffisthings Yet European governments continue to be surprised when huge cuts to government spending, coupled with tax increases, cause recessions.

ms. olsen (#1,102)

@WaityKatie “alternately sleeping at our desks and drinking the blood of innocents.” ahahahaha/oh god :(

This applies to both of my parents, who now know for certain that they will not be able to retire on anything like a normal timeline. This after decades of steady, reliable service at pay rates well below industry standard, in my dad’s case in war zones, in uniform and out.

I cannot believe this — the nuclear, tie-our-hands option — is going to happen. I’ve been alternating between rage and sadness. Mostly sadness, at this point.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@ms. olsen Yep. And our dear leaders in Congress will continue to get paid, receive their full benefits, and take their incredibly frequent weeks-long fully-paid recesses. On the other hand, maybe this is what it takes to wake the American people up as to everything the federal government does for them that they would sorely miss if it went away??

ms. olsen (#1,102)

@WaityKatie Maybe…but there’s a reason I wince-laughed at your original description of federal employees. I bet the American people will just expect feds to do their cushy blood-sucking jobs in less time, and when a good and decent federal employee makes a miracle happen and gets some desperately-needed thing done for them, the American people will nod smugly and say we knew you were just being lazy before

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@ms. olsen My description was entirely ironic. I’ve been working 10 hour days (no lunch, no breaks) at my “lazy” gubmint lawyer job for, oh, at least 3-4 years now. (prior to the recent upramp in work I “only” worked a regular 40 hour week and was able to take lunch usually). But I guess everyone in the private sector works even more than that now, so I’m still lazy and overpaid?

ms. olsen (#1,102)

@WaityKatie Sorry, I knew you were being ironic and I was trying to respond in kind! My point was that that awful misperception (that federal employees=lazy, overpaid ) runs weirdly deep in the American public, and while I wish the sequester could be the thing that wakes them up to the fact that the govt and its employees does a lot of good stuff they’ll miss when it’s gone — I’m not hopeful, because Americans seem to love to hate their bureaucrats. Believe me, I know how hard federal employees work, and what truckloads of nonsense they have to put up with.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@ms. olsen Sorry too, I realized that you were criticizing the public rather than the feds after I wrote my ranty comment. But then it was toooo laaaate… I just am on such a hair-trigger these days about being vilified for busting my ass all day at my job (which I don’t even like, at all).

Like, fine, don’t raise my pay for three years, even though my expenses go up every year *just like for all humans*, but don’t also come after me with this demonization crap. One or the other, not both. Argh “the public,” they are the worst.

ThatJenn (#916)

@WaityKatie As a state employee in a state that’s not doing well, I feel you on all of this about being vilified for laziness despite busting ass, taking on more and more responsibilities, decreasing benefits leading to effectively lower pay every few months, and no chance of a pay raise even for cost of living in the next 10 years. :( (I will not be immediately affected by the sequester like a federal employee, but my salary comes more than 90% from federal grants, so it will get here. I’m sorry you’re facing these furloughs so immediately.)

Oh and as per usual, here is my regularly-updated, comprehensive list of all economic crises in history that have been solved through austerity measures:

ms. olsen (#1,102)

I mean I get that, in the scheme of things — even in the scheme of the sequester, which will do huge damage to already vulnerable people everywhere — there are worse outcomes than my parents going from a comfortable existence to a less comfortable one. But my dad has literally bled for this country and he’s going to be sent home from work one day a week without pay like some naughty schoolboy. If I saw Boehner or Eric Cantor in the street I’d have to be physically restrained. Fuck them.

@ms. olsen Are members of congress and their staffs being furloughed as well? Isn’t that discretionary spending??

ms. olsen (#1,102)

@stuffisthings The members sure won’t be. They have important work to do, manufacturing crises, hurting people, and taking lobbyist money! Haven’t heard anything about staffers, but I don’t think they’re going to be affected. I know they’re different from federal employees but I don’t know where their pay comes from.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@stuffisthings Nope, different budgets. The gravy train for congress may continue apace!

Blondsak (#2,299)

I am a government contractor, which means I can skip worries about being furloughed – they will go straight to the chopping block with my job if need be. It’s been a tough few weeks at work waiting to find out what the outcome will be. I am hopeful they will come to an eleventh (okay, probably thirteenth) hour decision, but even then I see the most likely outcome as being “let’s kick another budget can down the road for the umpteenth time.” And meanwhile, as has been said in comments above, they all get to keep their benefits, jobs, vacation pay, etc. There is no word that has been invented to describe the sense of rage in me.

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